JERUSALEM (Apr. 9)
Renewed Katyusha rocket assaults on northern Israel have prompted calls for a massive military operation in southern Lebanon.
Tuesday’s attack, which injured at least 26 people, came 11 days after a similar barrage struck the western Galilee on March 30.
The Islamic fundamentalist Hezbollah movement in southern Lebanon claimed responsibility for the latest attack, which it said came in retaliation for the death of a 16-year-old Lebanese boy in a roadside bomb explosion the group blamed on Israel.
Israel denied any involvement in the explosion, saying it was caused when a mine the youth was playing with detonated.
Following the Katyusha attack, Israeli fighter planes struck terrorist targets in the western sector of the southern Lebanon security zone, where the rockets were believed to have been launched.
All the planes returned safely to base.
The attack drew renewed calls from opposition members, and some from northern residents, for a large-scale military action against Hezbollah operations in southern Lebanon.
The rocket barrage came as the political campaigns for the May 29 general elections were getting into full swing.
In Kiryat Shmona, which was hardest hit, anti-government protests erupted in the streets when Internal Security Minister Moshe Shahal visited the scene to assess the situation.
“We are living in a war zone,” Kiryat Shmona Mayor Prosper Azran said. “The government has not done enough to come through with promised and needed aid.”
Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu, who also visited Kiryat Shmona, called on the Israel Defense Force to act swiftly and with full force.
He said the army had already waited too long to do so, adding that the government of Prime Minister Shimon Peres was restraining the army out of political considerations.
Peres rejected the charges, telling reporters “we must act and we will. But I cannot give details on what will be done. Unlike other people, we have certain limitations in explaining our actions.”
Peres said that the army’s response would be subject to “a number of considerations — none of them political.”
In the March 30 Katyusha rocket attack, which caused no casualties, Israel had appealed to the United States to intervene on its behalf with Syria and Lebanon to calm the situation.
There were no such political contacts this time, Israel Radio reported.
The barrage of about 30 rockets hit the western Galilee and Galilee panhandle at about 7 a.m. Tuesday.
Residents of the north had been ordered to spend the previous night in shelters, after Hezbollah had issued a warning that it would retaliate for the mine explosion in which the youth was killed.
In Kiryat Shmona, one Katyusha directly hit a home, which was empty at the time.
Other rockets caused damage to buildings, cars and buses. Medical teams treated some 26 people, most of them for shock, minor cuts and bruises.
The most serious injury was sustained by a woman who suffered shrapnel wounds in the hip. She was operated on in a hospital in Safed, where she was listed in moderate condition, according to Israel Radio, which said that a number of injuries were sustained because residents had ignored the warnings.
“Look, if people went down into their shelters every time there was a warning, our entire lives would be interrupted,” said one Kiryat Shmona resident.
Others complained of poorly equipped and crowded shelters.
Tuesday’s rocket barrage came as resorts and nature reserves in the north were filled with Passover holiday visitors.